I don’t believe I will ever grow tired of the solitude of a calm cool winter day spent with one of my horses. I much prefer temperatures in the 40’s rather than the 90’s even though when I settled into the seat of the saddle today the skin on my bottom said, ” Oh, my that gave me goose bumps.” The leather slowly warmed up as I sat quietly on Sorry enjoying the new stillness we have found together. As I waited, I prayed, “What would you like to teach us today, Lord?”
I was very thankful to feel well enough to be out riding again today after a couple of days off due to a very painful tooth abscess. After not eating much for 24 hours, staying in bed for nearly 36 hours, some strong pain pills and antibiotics I feel like functioning again. I won’t be able to see the dentist in Grand Island recommended by my local dentist until Dec. 30th. As long as the antibiotics keep working until then I think I will be fine.
As I was thinking how thankful I was to not be in so much pain I was reminded that earlier this fall Sorry also had some painful tooth issues. She started shaking her head and keeping one eye shut. At first I thought it was something in her eye, because we had been busting through some big brush and trees looking for new trails. I took her to the vet, he said “there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with her eye.” A couple of weeks later I knew something was going on, she was pretty good as long as I was riding in a halter. So I suspected it was a tooth problem. I took her to another vet requesting a look at her teeth. After floating her teeth she was a new horse. Well almost so.
I noticed that as I began to ask her for lateral flexion she was a little defensive. I mean, she put her head where I wanted it and quite quickly, but there was a twinge of resistance as if to avoid pain before she responded appropriately. I realized that she was just protecting herself from the remembrance of pain in her mouth she had been experiencing earlier this fall. I had a new sense of empathy for her after my own painful experience the last couple of days. So I decided to focus on making sure she understood that when I asked her with the reins to laterally bend it would not result in pain, and that she could respond without trying to protect herself.
In between each request I allowed her to walk around the round pen on a completely loose rein as a means of reward and relaxation. When I felt that she was realizing there was no pain involved, I activated the rein after the bend waiting for her to move her outside hind foot. At first there was some defensive behavior again. So I mixed it up by sometimes asking for the outside hind to step over with just my seat and air pressure from my foot not using any rein. She liked this and actually did better than she did with the rein cue. So I worked to help her be equally responsive to the rein cue alone, or the seat and leg cue without any rein. By the time I combined the two (rein with seat and leg cue) she was feeling real good. In fact, when I went to dismount today, she was able to remain in that still place without getting excited about ending our session and heading back to the barn. It was definitely a very peaceful time well spent together.
That is all we did today, and I know it doesn’t seem like much. But I think it was very important and quite necessary, because I have mainly been riding her on trail rides this fall with clients and sort of ignoring the advancement of her training. It can be easy to ignore things your horse is trying to tell you when your main goal is to just get from point A to B and have fun while doing it. Now don’t get me wrong I am into riding for fun as much as anyone else. However, I realized today that being alone with my horse in a very non-demanding environment where I could truly listen to her without any other distractions was very valuable to our relationship. As I take the time alone with Sorry to fix these issues I know that our next trail ride will be even more enjoyable, because it will be better for her too, not just for me.
As I was thinking about the time alone I have spent with Sorry the last few days I realize how precious it has been. Don’t get me wrong, I love riding with friends and clients. I enjoy riding in clinics to teach and learn. It doesn’t matter whether I am the instructor or participant in a clinic I always learn many things about myself and my horse. In fact that is why I am riding Sorry so much right now, because I recently sent in my deposit to ride with Buck Brannamen again this year in Kiowa CO Labor Day weekend. Last March I rode Sorry in one of his clinics in Fremont, NE. I want to be sure that if he recognizes us in Sept. he will be able to say, “Wow, you two have made a lot of progress since I last saw you.”
My point is this; riding with friends for entertainment, in a show or competition for the challenge, or with an instructor in a private lesson or a clinic as a means of progressing is great, and they all have their purpose. However, without some quality time alone with your horse with stillness to listen and a willingness to wait your progress may not be as great as you desire or expect. I actually look forward to solitude with my horses where there is no one to converse with but God and my horse.
In the same manner without spending time alone with God where we can still our mind into a position of listening and a willingness to wait on the Lord our progress as a Christian who reflects Christ in our everyday lives may be hindered. Jesus gave us a perfect example of this in Matthew 12:23 “After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone.”
Jesus was alone; he went apart into a solitary place, and was there all alone. Though he had so much work to do with others, yet he chose sometimes to be alone, to set us an example. A follower of Christ does not mind being alone; they can enjoy themselves in solitude, when they have none else to converse with, none else to enjoy, but God and their own hearts.
When Jesus was alone he prayed. Though Christ, as God, was Lord of all, and was prayed to, yet Christ, as Man, had the form of a servant, and He prayed. Christ has set before us an example of secret prayer, and the performance of it secretly, according to the rule he gave in Matthew 6:6 “When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
The time Jesus spent alone was long. Even though it was a stormy night, he continued in prayer all night long. It is good, at least sometimes, upon special occasions, and when we find our hearts enlarged, to continue long in secret prayer, and to take full scope in pouring out our hearts before the Lord. We must not cut short our time alone with God.
Even though it is important to fellowship with other believers in church, bible studies, etc. the time we spend alone with God in prayer must never be ignored because that is how we build a relationship with Him. In the same way the time we spend alone with our horse is really when the things that matter most often happen. There is nothing that can replace that time alone with our horse or with our God that can take us to that next level.
I hope you can find the time to be still, listen and wait alone with your horse and with God before the New Year begins. It will ensure that you will be off to a great start in 2012.